How To Start Bike Commuting For Cheap

Earlier this year, as part of my dedication to fitness and frugal living, I decided to start riding a bike for transportation. I am certainly not an expert, but I think I’ve got a good start, and I didn’t spend a crazy amount of money on my basic setup. I now strive to bike instead of drive on the weekends, and I have been attempting a once-per-week commute to work (28 miles round trip).  As I gain strength and stamina, I hope to change my bike-to-work commitment to 2 days per week.

When I started down this path to bike commuting I hadn’t regularly ridden a bike for many years, so I took on the daunting task of buying everything I would need, and getting it all for cheap. Here’s the cost breakdown on the gear I’ve purchased so far:

Helmet: $45
Craigslist road bike: $25
Minor fixing & new wheel at my local bike co-op: $37
New saddle/seat: $29
Lights: $50
Repair tools & other emergency pack accessories: $31
Cold weather clothing: $50

TOTAL: $267

The bike is nothing special: an old 10 speed road bike, but with a little fixing up and accessorizing, it’s been going strong for a few months. I might have to buy a few extra things as winter progresses including wool base layer clothing and fenders, but I hope to keep up the routine and make this a permanent lifestyle change that will save me a lot of money.

It seems the key to success here was to buy a solid used bike (Craigslist was essential), and to help fix it’s flaws myself while learning about bike maintenance at my local bike co-op.  I hope to continue learning how to be a savvy bike commuter, but I am very happy with my progress so far and I’ve loved the time I spent on my new bike so far this year.

Despite my frugal gathering of the essentials, I also spent $700 on a completely non-essential electric bike trailer from RideKick. The trailer has given me the motivation to actually tackle the round trip commute to work and facilitates an easy way to fetch groceries on the weekends.

While I admit the trailer purchase was an indulgence, I hope to have it pay for itself through the exercise it helps facilitate, the fuel costs it helps me save, and the time it saves me by keeping my average speed up. Even if it doesn’t pay for itself quickly, it has been a great motivator to get me out and riding, and serves as a useful crutch while I build endurance.

So, fellow frugal cyclist, I hope to see you out there on the road, and I wish you good luck gearing up for cheap!

Update (2013-01-06): I’ve published a RideKick electric trailer review here, if you’re interested in reading more about it.

Just getting started bike commuting? Check out my related blog.

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  • Thank you for sharing how you got started biking! Sounds like you have a nice, long ride. With so much gear on the market, sometimes it feels like you *have* to spend a lot of money. When I started commuting, I really wanted a new bike (it would be lighter, better suited for the ride, more stylish), but I had a mountain bike that was just gathering dust. In the end, I told myself I could have a new bike if I was still commuting a year later.

    • Yes, there is a definite culture that encourages lots of gear purchases – I especially notice this when discussing with coworkers or family members who ride ocassionally and have spent quite a bit more than me.

      I am lamenting my inability to use my road bike this week because of snow and ice that hasn’t melted yet – I am now wondering if I can fit some snow tires on my bike…